Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Elon Musk

SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk poses on the red carpet of the Axel Springer Award ceremony on December 1, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo: Britta Pedersen-Pool/Getty Images)

700 US Billionaires Got $1.7 Trillion Richer During Two Years of Pandemic

A new analysis finds that the 704 billionaires in the U.S. now own more wealth than the bottom half of Americans—roughly 165 million people.

Jake Johnson

During the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic, the collective wealth of billionaires in the United States grew by a staggering $1.7 trillion as Covid-19 killed millions of people across the globe and threw entire nations into turmoil, worsening extreme poverty, hunger, and other preexisting crises.

"We can't accept an economy and tax code that allows billionaires to hoard trillions while working families struggle."

Released Friday to coincide with the second anniversary of the World Health Organization's official pandemic declaration for Covid-19, the latest billionaire fortune analysis by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) finds that the 704 billionaires in the U.S. now own more combined wealth than the 165 million people in the bottom half of the country's wealth distribution.

"For billionaires, it's been two years of raking in the riches, while for most families it's been two years of fear, frustration, and financial worry," ATF executive director Frank Clemente said in a statement.

The new analysis stresses that billionaires' pandemic windfall "may never be taxed" because it consists of unrealized capital gains, which are not subject to taxation under current U.S. law. As one possible solution, ATF voices support for Sen. Ron Wyden's (D-Ore.) proposed Billionaires Income Tax, legislation that would impose an annual levy on ultra-wealthy Americans' unrealized gains from tradable assets such as stocks.

"The rising asset values billionaires have enjoyed over the past two years are not taxable unless the assets are sold," ATF explains. "But billionaires don't need to sell assets to benefit from their increased value: they can live off money borrowed at cheap rates secured against their rising fortunes. And when all those wealth gains are passed along to the next generation, they entirely disappear for tax purposes."

While Democrats in Congress considered a tax on billionaires as part of their Build Back Better package, that legislation was tanked by a handful of corporate Democrats—including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—and a unified Republican caucus.

"Why should our economic system allow billionaires to hoard wealth unchecked, letting almost all of it go tax-free?"

Earlier this month, Manchin floated a further watered-down version of the Build Back Better proposal that calls for tax reforms targeting the wealthy and corporations, but it's unclear whether the West Virginia Democrat would accept a tax on billionaires.

"Working families pay what they owe in taxes each paycheck. Billionaires generally pay little or nothing in taxes on these extraordinary gains in wealth," Clemente said Friday. "Congress should enact a Billionaires Income Tax to directly tax these wealth gains as income each year, so that billionaires begin to pay their fair share of taxes. Such a reform is not yet part of President Biden's investment and tax legislation now being revised by Congress, but it should be."

According to ATF's new analysis, the biggest billionaire winners during the coronavirus pandemic's first two years were:

  • Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who saw his net worth skyrocket by $209 billion;
  • Google co-founder Larry Page, whose fortune grew by $63 billion; and
  • Google co-founder Sergey Brin, whose wealth increased by $60 billion.

"Not one of the 15 richest U.S. billionaires gained less than $10 billion," ATF noted on Twitter, pointing out that during the same two-year period 80 million Americans were infected by Covid-19 and nearly a million were killed by the virus.

"We can't accept an economy and tax code that allows billionaires to hoard trillions while working families struggle to afford healthcare, childcare, education, and housing," the group added. "It's wrong, and we can do better."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.

 

'Infuriating': Biden Rebuked for Continued Opposition to Supreme Court Expansion

"What does Biden 'agree' with doing?" Mehdi Hasan asked. "What does the leader of this country want to do to stop the increasingly fascistic assault on our democratic institutions and basic rights?"

Kenny Stancil ·


'We Need Action': Biden, Democrats Urged to Protect Abortion Access in Post-Roe US

"The Supreme Court doesn't get the final say on abortion," Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Tina Smith wrote in a new op-ed.

Kenny Stancil ·


Motorist 'Tried to Murder' Abortion Rights Advocates at Iowa Protest, Witnesses Say

Although one witness said the driver went "out of his way" to hit pro-choice protestors in the street, Cedar Rapids police declined to make an arrest.

Kenny Stancil ·


'A Hate Crime': Oslo Pride Parade Canceled After Deadly Shooting at Gay Bar

A 42-year-old gunman has been charged with terrorism following what Norway's prime minister called a "terrible and deeply shocking attack on innocent people."

Kenny Stancil ·


'We WILL Fight Back': Outrage, Resolve as Protests Erupt Against SCOTUS Abortion Ruling

Demonstrators took to the streets Friday to defiantly denounce the Supreme Court's right-wing supermajority after it rescinded a constitutional right for the first time in U.S. history.

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo